Cryptic: What STO Can Learn From CO
alt="Grey in STO"
src="http://www.tentonhammer.com/image/view/92108"> style="width: 112px; height: 280px; float: right;"
alt="Grey in CO"
they have only been in production for just a decade, Cryptic Studios
has successfully launched three MMOGs so far in their lifetime, and
already has a fourth announced. As a fan and player of their most
recently launched title - Star
Trek Online - I frequently find myself in a position of
examining the game and comparing with Cryptic's other work to date.
Sadly, when I do so, I see STO coming up short in a few areas of design
philosophy. Some are core concepts that would alter the entire flow of
STO while others are smaller factors that Cryptic already seems to be
on the road to correcting. All, however, are lessons that could be
learned from their prior MMOG, Champions
Online. And while the worlds of warp speed and tight
spandex don't seem to dwell in the same reality, the core truth is that
they are both MMOGs, both use the same engine and both were created by
the same development company. They have more in common than not, and
more to learn from one another than may be apparent at first glance.
Throughout the world of CO, youll frequently be given very generic
instructions on where to find your next batch of missions, and along
the way youre bound to stumble across some pedestrian being assaulted
by hooligans, or find a contact tucked in behind a building that you
might not have noticed at first glance. To date, STO does not have more
than a half-dozen of similarly discoverable objectives, out of a
repertoire of missions that numbers in the several-hundreds.
It may seem like a small factor, and one that is frequently taken for
granted in traditional MMOGs, but it is a core feature that plays to
the explorer archetype of gamers. And given that exploration is
frequently touted as one of STO's weaker features at this point in
time, it stands to reason that giving players an option to discover
content by accident could go a long way toward improving the feeling
that we are going where no man has gone before.
In addition to the exploration side of things, it's possible that
having fewer missions handed out by a number of static commanding
officers, and instead offered by passing freighters and subspace
distress beacons, may offer the world of STO a stronger sense of life
and immersion. In fact, I can recall a number of episodes from every
series where one captain or another would divert themselves from their
primary objective in order to investigate something nearby a spatial
anomaly or passing mystery ship. Each are canon-driven references to
content that was not assigned, but was instead found.
mission structure is a much more traditional MMOG model than STO. In
CO, you visit a quest hub, load up on missions, then head out into the
adventuring areas nearby and start collecting progress in the form of
items and kills on multiple objectives at the same time. So while
youre snuffing the neighborhood baddies, youre also picking up the
stolen data they swiped from Dr. Goodguy's lab, as well as ransacking
their camps for other prizes - working on at least three different
STO on the other hand, has you focus on a single objective at a time.
And while that focus might feel good for some folks (I know theres a
little OCD in every gamer) ultimately it ends up giving you the
distinct impression that you are riding on rails. At no point do you
feel in control of your destiny, despite being a captain of a starship.
Instead, you're told where to go, what to do, and even when the mission
goals are inane you are very rarely offered the responsibility of going
after more than one at any point in time.
As well as giving us a larger sense that we, as the important
high-ranking captains that we are, are actually accomplishing a number
of worthy goals, this structure of working toward multiple objectives
simultaneously could cut down on another of the primary gripes against
STO excessive zoning. Placing multiple missions in a single area
could also allow players to also become attached to the places they
visit, instead of each debris-strewn map being no more than another
nameless planetary system where we destroyed some
Harvestables That Give Buffs
Very small thing, but picking up crafting supplies in CO gives you a
buff that lasts like 5-10 minutes. Even better this buff is not just
for you, it also bestows that buff on anyone in the area. The buffs are
also different for each different class of harvestable (Science,
Arms, Magic). So its possible, if youre in a group with at least two
buddies of different crafting specialities, to load up on short-term
buffs to damage, resistance and regen, while you smash baddies together.
The benefits of incorporating this system into STO are many-fold. First
off, it encourages you to pick up anomalies even if you have no
intention of using them to craft. Next, it gives each individual
crafter the potential of having their crafting skills affect their
combat capabilities in a tangible way, even if the boost is a small
one. And finally and I think most importantly it encourages the
active participation of multiple players to work towards locating these
anomalies that are, by and large, considered a nuisance by many STO
players. By attaching a simple buff to the act of harvesting them, you
can quickly change them from a speedbump and distraction, into a
desirable and sought-after item.
And while were on the subject of crafting...
Full-Blown Crafting System
The STO version of crafting is nothing more than a vendor system with
complicated currency. At least CO has a crafting system thats an
actual CRAFTING system, complete with customization of the items that
result from your efforts, and a wide assortment of gear that cannot be
obtained by any other means.
To be clear though, I don't believe that COs crafting system is a
landmark achievement in MMOG history, style="width: 320px; height: 348px; float: left;"
If Cryptic were looking for inspiration to revamp their crafting
system, I believe the perfect fit would be a system similar to that
employed by the now-defunct MMOG Earth and Beyond. Under
the system present in EnB, players would reverse-engineer
items they purchased or looted, then reassemble them into beefier
versions of the original item by adding additional components. Not only
would this system directly translate to STO's item system (adding
suffixes with specific bonuses) but it is also perfectly canon to the
Star Trek universe. How many times did Scotty, Trip or LaForge salvage
a piece of half-working technology and turn it into a mechanical
marvel? There's no reason our engineering crews should be any less
More Public Adventuring Areas
Theres something magical about the moment those scary moments that
happen in almost every other MMO: Where youre adventuring and about to
take down the next kobold or rat or whatever, and all of the sudden
youre jumped by a skeleton and begin fighting for your life to fend
off the new adversary. Then, just at the moment youve realized that
youre doomed, in swoops a friendly player and blasts the baddies away.
They save your life, and youve never met them before. You add them to
your friends list. Ten levels later, you invite them to a dungeon with
you, and join them in voice chat. You learn that they love polka music
and kangaroos just as much as you do, and a bond is formed that will
last beyond the group, beyond the dungeon, and beyond the game. Youve
just made a real friend. And all because you got jumped by a skeleton.
alt="STO Social Area"
That scenario simply cant happen in STO, because nearly all of the
content is cut up into small private areas that each player has the
option to do completely on their own. Ill grant that its cool to have
the option to solo, and very cool that that same content can scale up
to meet the capabilities of teams. But as it currently stands there is
no extra incentive to group with other players. And, in fact, such an
activity is in violation to the vast majority of existing Star Trek
stories where it's almost always one ship and its crew that save the
day. Not a fleet of five.
These small isolated slices of content leave the majority of players
feeling cut-off from the rest of the universe. The fact that there are
no public chat channels that tie these areas to the rest of the game is
also upsetting, and something that DDO has managed to overcome (players
in private instances are still attached to the nearest public zones
chat). Id love to see that in STO, if we cant instead simply make a
few areas public.
A few public areas exist in the form of Fleet Actions. However, all but
one of these (the dreaded Crystalline Entity) offer very
little in the way of real challenges that require large-scale tactical
decisions or coordinated efforts. So even in these areas, few players
feel the need to group and fewer still interact socially with the other
captains they encounter. Public chat channels in these public areas are
mostly bereft of life. In CO by comparison, the equivalent content is
known as Public Missions which are simply specialized areas within the
larger public adventuring zone. Meaning they are not isolated from the
rest of the nearby content, and players chatting with each other aren't
forced into isolated channels should they seek to engage this type of
content. This is, in fact, how the majority of these Public Missions
are defeated by players asking each other in the public chat channels
to join in on the fun and assist one another with overcoming the
obstacles they present.
More Climactic Engagements
The majority of missions within CO have a boss-like battle at the end.
Its usually nothing more than a beefed up generic baddie, frequently
even without a special name to set him apart from similarly-powered
buddies. But it at least adds a certain amount of punctuation to
completing the missions if he's the only one of his slightly-more-beefy
type within the mission, and represents the final obstacle to overcome.
STO has many missions with this in place but it is so inconsistently
used that it ends up being a rare treat when it occurs. Quite a few
missions are bound to leave many players saying, Oh, it's over? and
scratching at their cranial ridges upon the defeat of the final
adversary. Adding in more climactic battle sequences at the end of
combat-driven missions would instead leave players feeling as though
they'd accomplished something important and challenging, instead of
just steamrolling yet another group of peons.
Life Bonus Instead of Death Penalty
alt="STO Death Penalty"
if you play on tougher difficulties, you receive injuries upon death
that give you random debuffs which reduce your overall combat
efficiency in various areas. Conversely, CO offers players an incentive
for staying alive and completing missions in the form of a slight boost
to all of your abilities. You can also purchase this boost from
vendors, in case youve been dying a lot and want that edge back
without having to re-earn it.
Really, in terms of core game mechanics and number crunching both work
out to be about equal, so there's very little to debate on that front.
But one feels rewarding while the other feels like punishment. So
which, if youre designing a game, sounds like it makes more sense to
include? A reward, or a punishment? Make your players feel good about
playing your game, or bad?
Sounds like common sense, if you ask me. However, it's possible that
the ship has sailed on this front, as the Death Penalty has been a
thoroughly-debated topic all over STO's official forums and elsewhere,
yet Cryptic continues to stick to their guns. To be perfectly frank, I
dont play STO on higher difficulties because I find there to be very
Now... lets be fair, Champions Online has its share of lumps, and is
not by any means a perfect game. In fact, my honest opinion is that STO
has much more polish, more passion, and more technical innovation
behind it. But despite it being the little brother to STO, I still feel
it could offer quite a few lessons to big brother.
Including, quite possibly, how to become a successful F2P title? It's
far too early to render a verdict on that front, but you can bet your
sweet spandex that I'll be keeping a close watch on how things progress
on that front for both of Cryptic's current titles, and their future
projects as well.
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